At home again this week, with Old Brentwoods the opponents. This fixture last year saw Cantabs put 70 points on the Essex men, but with seven team changes, including two on the morning of the match, Cantabs would be pleased just to come out of it without further injuries. Luke Munby and Bevan Whyte were the late withdrawals; both carrying knocks from the Beccles game. Neither James McCaughran or Drew Tilley had recovered from the same match. So wholesale changes, the most surprising being prop/hooker Charlie Searle being drafted in at flanker. Isaia Barbieri and Warren Cowan were also unavailable, giving first outing of the year in the 1st XV for 2nd XV captain Mike Denman.
Cantabs kicked off towards the railway end in the yellow change strip on a very wet pitch, in drizzly conditions. It was our customary slow start that saw the visitors making the early running. But from virtually the first scrum, the Brentwood flanker broke too early, giving Ali a chance of three points from 40m out. The kick was short and Brentwood came back at us with a good kick back into our 22. Rich Ford caught the ball superbly and set up the drive.
Another attack from Brentwood quickly followed, Cantabs were penalised for not releasing the ball in their own 22, and Brentwood surprisingly took a tap instead of going for the straightforward kick. This seemed to catch the Cantabs defence on the back foot as the decision proved to be the right one with the Essex men scoring a try to the left of the posts. The OB flyhalf made no mistake with the conversion to make the score 0 - 7 after just five minutes.
Jack Sykes took a knock trying to stop the try and after some attention was still limping as Josh took the restart kick. Cantabs were now looking ragged as Brentwood ran the ball back at us. Next to feel the full force of the Essex forwards was Josh who did not recover, having to depart the game after only ten minutes. Wholesale adjustments to our back division followed. On came Paul Graddage on the left wing, Francois moving to fullback and Ali taking over at stand-off. Charlie Searle made a good drive from a catch, Paul Graddage took on the attack, but was unable to get the ball away to Ali this time. Brentwood moved the ball forward and some desperate tackling was required to halt the OB progress. We then tried to run the ball out of our own 22, but were stripped of the ball and an attempted drop-kick by their flyhalf was only just wide of the far post. The very next Brentwood attack should have brought another try, but their man dived over the 5m line in error and then tried to go again only to be hauled back for a scrum as Cantabs grounded the ball over their own line. At this point the Cantabs scrum had started to impose some sort of order, and won against the head. Francois rocketed forward making good ground on the right. Good support play from Finlay, who scythed through the defence supported by Rich Ford and Mike Denman. The ball was taken on by Jack Sykes, who made the line, scoring in the right hand corner. Ali missed the kick but with a quarter of the game gone Cantabs were now at least on the board at 5 - 7.
A struggling Rich Ford (suffering from flu apparently) then left the game, bringing Chris Walliker into the fray at 2nd Row. Jonnie moved to flanker and took over as captain, and Denman to No 8. Another great run from Francois took the play deep into the Brentwood half. Finlay followed up with yet another smart run down the right and with Denman in support OB were forced to touch down behind their try line. The 5m scrum was held well by Brentwood and Jonnie Heaver peeled away with the ball in an attempt to make the line. The chance was gone however and OB cleared the danger with a kick to touch. A high tackle was required to halt the Essex men and from the resultant penalty close to our 10m line, the flyhalf kicked beautifully to widen the gap to 5 - 10; and 30 minutes gone.
From the restart Jonnie stole the ball and set up the forwards. OB offended again at the breakdown, and this time Jack went for touch. A lineout from 10m out was caught well by Charlie and yet again the Essex men were penalised. We took the scrum option and with the ball held in well the scrum moved right up to the Brentwood line, before they were penalised again for breaking too early. The scrum option was taken, this time from 5m, and the inevitable try followed with Jonnie taking the honours with the final touchdown. Ali’s kick rapped the left hand post, but Cantabs were finally level with 38 minutes of the half spent. Cantabs had one more chance to make progress but although we made it back into the OB 22, the referee blew for half time with no further score.
Shortly into the second half a good kick from Jack saw us up to the Brentwood 22. The catch and drive brought the penalty and with the Cantabs faithful expecting another kick into the corner, Cantabs elected to kick. Ali gave the ball to Jack, who saw his kick go wide and short being caught by a juggling Brentwood back, who passed to his fellow back who then spilt the ball 5m out from his line. Jack gathered the ball passed over the defender, one more pass and Denman shot through to score a try to the left of the posts. Ali missed the conversion, but somewhat fortunately we were now in the lead for the first time at 15 - 10.
The joy was short-lived, however, Brentwood now had their tails up and moved back into our half with some good driving runs, their hooker captain catching the eye. Cantabs were caught offside and the reliable OB flyhalf made no mistake from 30m, to make the score 15 - 13.
Cantabs were now looking ragged and continued to try and play their way out of danger. Then when Ali did try a kick out of his 22 the ball hardly left the ground and rocketed against his own forwards, who were promptly penalised for going off-side in an attempt to win the ball on the ground and the OB flyhalf duly slotted the kick from 25m to bring the score to 15 - 16. Denman then took a break and took over at linesman.
Cantabs moved forward from the restart and we were awarded a penalty of our own centrally and 32m out. While our linesman was discussing the merits of the decision to take the kick at goal, he forgot all about his flag duties and it fell on Dan Searle behind the goal to signal a successful kick; now Cantabs were back in the lead at 18 - 16.
Shortly afterwards, OB were penalised again. Mick Jones ran on with the kicking tee to finish any debate on the kick. Up stepped Ali 35m out and planted the kick straight through the middle from wide on the right. The score was now 21 – 16. Brentwood were not done however, and to their credit they took the game back to us in injury time. A great run down the right touchline by their winger needed a try-saving tackle from Francois Eve to crash man and ball through the corner flag. The whistle went for time, another win for the Cantabs taking us up to 5th in the division.
Man of the match went to Francois, for his running and that final tackle. The 1st XV now have a week off, and with Dean James and Dan Searle looking for a half in the 2nd XV match at Huntingdon next Saturday, could it be that our terrible run of injuries is starting to end? Chance for the rest of the squad to recharge their batteries and prepare for some tough games in the run up to Christmas.